That darned subconscious!

Two times in the last few days people close to me have done things that seemed to me, in the moment, really destructive, or aggressive, or self-destructive, or potentially self-sabotaging, or some combination of all of the above. In both cases I responded by feeling anger, but pretty much backing away from the situation in the moment, until I could find time to process my feelings.

It’s not so much that I am afraid of expressing anger. It’s more that I don’t want to say things that I don’t really mean, based on some unformed mental model of what’s going on. After all, it’s a lot easier to make situations worse than it is to make them better.

In both cases I eventually got to a place in my own head where I could separate myself from what had happened. One conclusion I’ve reached from this is that I often become angry at people when they act out of some subconscious directive that seems destructive or self-destructive. And that’s a mistake on my part.

It’s a mistake because I am generally assuming, in that moment, that they know what’s going on. “If it’s obvious even to me what game they are playing here,” I tell myself, “then surely it is obvious to them!”

But no, it is not obvious to them. They don’t know what game they are playing. They don’t even know they are playing a game. That’s the whole point with this subconscious thing.

We all sometimes do or say the most absurd things, and the people around us may be mortified, yet we yourselves may have no idea, in that moment, that we have crossed any boundaries. Because it’s our subconscious doing it, acting out of some important emotional need that our conscious mind cannot access.

Our subconscious, of course, really sucks as a long term planner. So when it decides to take action, it will often do so in ways that will come across to other people as very agressive or self-destructive, or at the very least unsettling.

On the other hand, these subconscious minds of ours are pretty darned awesome. For one thing, without them we probably wouldn’t fall in love all that much, and the human race would have died out long ago. So when they end up popping up in the darnedest places, I guess we should cut them some slack.

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